The average American takes about 26 minutes a day to commute to work one way (that’s 52 minutes in total), but those numbers vary from city to city. For example, 10.8 million Americans commute more than one hour each way, and most of them live and work in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Atlanta.
Unfortunately, research shows that these commutes will literally be the death of us. People who commute 90 minutes or more are more likely to have back and neck pain, and long commute times also up your blood pressure and anxiety levels. Then there’s also the time suck of it all. If you’re commuting, that means you’re not spending time with family, exercising or doing other things that make you healthy and happy.
The best way to improve your commute is to shorten it, but this is difficult to pull off for many people. Experts say moving closer to work, working closer to home, or commuting on an alternate schedule that lets you avoid heavy traffic times all help keep commutes shorter. You can also choose public transit, biking or walking over driving to cut down on commuting stress, and ask your workplace if they can let you work from home a few times a week.
But for those of us who are stuck with the 9-to-5 (or later) office grind, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite tools and tricks to help us make the most of the time we spend getting to and from work.
If you’re driving, your eyes have to be on the road and your hands have to be on the wheel. That leaves your ears open for things like…
Audible.com has over 180,000 audio books on file, including recent best sellers like Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance and The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins, as well as series like the Game Of Thrones saga (weeks of listening material!) and the Harry Potter books. If you hop in the car every day for 30 minutes each way, you can finish Ansari’s guide on love and dating in just under seven days, and then it’s on to the next audiobook. At $14.95 per month, the service is cheaper than buying a new hardcover book — especially if you go through more than one every month!
If you want a similar experience for zero money, many public libraries loan out audiobook files to members. The Los Angeles County Public Library, for instance, loans out audiobooks via several different apps, and the files expire after 21 days.
If you’re not listening to podcasts, you’re missing out on some serious water cooler talk. Stay up to date in 2016 by listening to Serial’s take on the Bowe Bergdahl story and expand your horizons with our favorite podcasts on mindfulness, empathy, spirituality and scientific research. And besides news and current events, podcasts are a great opportunity to go full nerd on that hobby you love, with podcasts on restaurants and cooking, recaps and discussions of your favorite TV shows or shows about money (and how to get more of it).
Both iPhones and Android phones come with built-in apps to download and manage podcasts. If you want to go fancier (and paid), check out The Verge’s2015 recommendations for Android phones and iPhones.
3. Music playlists
This is a pretty old idea — we’ve been listening to radios in cars since 1930. But new apps for listening to music, like Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play and others make music discovery or putting together your own playlist a breeze. In other words, no more waiting for that favorite song of yours to pop up on that radio station. If you pony up for paid subscriptions you’ll be listening to your tunes ad-free (while supporting the artists!), and that sounds pretty sweet to us.
If you’re on a public bus or train (and aren’t driving it), you can also do things like…
4. Meditate and do breathing exercises
Not all meditation needs to happen with your eyes closed, but if someone else is doing the driving, you’re free and clear to close your eyes briefly if you need to! Apps with guided meditations can help you take deep breaths, calm your thoughts and process your emotions — perfect for winding down after a tough day at the office, or getting centered before entering the workplace. Healthline and Vogueboth offer their favorite versions for both iPhone and Android.
Journaling has been shown to help manage depression, reduce stress and help you achieve your goals. If you don’t get motion sick from reading and writing in a vehicle, use your commute to jot down stray thoughts and emotions about your day, or plans for work or the weekend. Just be prepared for nosy seat mates to glance over your shoulder!
6. Take a nap
For seasoned commuters only! If you know your train stops take an average of 35 minutes, set an alarm on your phone for 25 minutes and snag a window seat. But be warned — missing the alarm could lengthen your commute if you wake up too late and find you have to double back.
If you’re walking, well, aren’t you a lucky duck? Not only can you do most of the driving and public transit activities, but you can also get a little more exercise in.
7. Alternate bursts of speed-walking with a more leisurely pace.
Research shows that alternating your pace between moderate intensity and easy intensity is a faster way to burn fat and build endurance than simply keeping a steady pace throughout. Throw in some speed walking intervals about three times a week and you’re on your way to building a great foundation for HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, down the road.
8. Do lunges and side steps.
This may not work so well if you’re lugging a backpack to work, but people who are traveling light can throw in a few lunges and side steps while walking down an empty sidewalk. It’s a quick way to get some resistance work in without having to go to the gym. Alternately, taking the long way home, or paths that bring you up or down stairs, are more great ways to get a little strength training in at the end of the day.
Prancercising — or a “springy, rhythmic way of moving forward” — is the perfect commute activity for people who DGAF. Take a cue from creator Joanna Rohrback and use your walking commute as an opportunity to express your inner child by skipping around like a horse high on clover. It’s vigorous exercise, completely freeing and will bring you back to your grade school days, when you probably did know a classmate or two obsessed with horses.